Everest Base Camp, Mt. Kilimanjaro and now Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail. The “Amateur’s Guide To The Hiking Trilogy.” Climbing terrain like these (and Mt. Kinabalu, Patagonia, and the glaciers of Denali National Park) teaches you things, more than you ever set out to learn at the start of a trek.
Mountains are a constant reminder that the planet preceded people (by more than a few shakes of a lamb’s tail, mind you) and not the other way around. A mountain does not owe us anything. It and the universe is indifferent to our desires.
There’s no guarantee you’ll get to where you’re going and even if you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to see the “where you’ve gotten to.”
Weather in the mountains can change frighteningly fast. In one moment, an enlightenment-inducing vista unfurls itself before your speechless eyes, putting you in a perplexing state of arousal. But before you can grab your camera, the clouds cover up that brief glance of the thigh of your new mistress. That peek was for you, not for anyone else, because you earned it after days of trudging the nameless ridge lines and countless switchbacks, no one else did.
It was you who had to deal with the constant bombardment of your own thoughts:
- Did I pack enough clothes?
- Does my head lamp have batteries?
- How much water should I bring?
- Do I have enough snacks?
- Is that diarrhea coming or just a digestive reshuffling?
- Where are my gloves?
- I can’t sleep. The ground is too hard and this air mattress blows.
- Should I wash my hands again?
- Do I stop and put my rain jacket on or do I not want to deal with the zipping and unzipping of my bag?
- How long does sunscreen last before I have to reapply?
- How bad do I smell after 4 days of not showering?
- My thighs feel like jello. Maybe I should stretch. But let me lay down first…
Nowhere else in my life do I simultaneously experience such highs and lows as I do when trekking. Clambering up to a hidden pass, altitude’s vice grip squeezes out of my lungs the very thing I’m trying to cram in there. Oh how my mistress has suddenly lost interest in me. Various deals with the devil are made so that I can snuff out the little voice in my head who is pleading for me to turn back.
Once I reach the momentary summit, I can smile through my gasps, giddy at my accomplishment, bathing in a concoction of adrenaline and endorphins, but I’m never so crass as to gloat. There will be other hills. She will fight back.
Hiking at altitude is a game of chess. What are you willing to sacrifice for the long play?
Every time I hike there is a moment where I tell myself that I’m never hiking again, that this is stupid, that it isn’t any fun. It’s probably 70% into a 10-hour day when the rain is getting into places it shouldn’t, when my body is tired of propulsion, when my stomach is banging on its empty walls, when my shoelace is untied but I can’t be bothered to stop and tie it. I know that after this, I’ll never trek again…
But inevitably there is that moment when I’m laughing over a meal with my fellow climbers, away from wifi, tucked in an alcove somewhere off the map, or when I stop and look down at the earth below me and I think, “I have this glorious view because I walked here. I can see the wonders of the earth, I can cross mountain ranges because I chose to continually put one aching foot in front of the other.”
There is no comparable natural high for me.
I’m too in love with mountains to ever really hate them long enough to leave ‘em.
Whatever peaks you’re scrambling towards, keep climbing. The view is worth it.
Turning actual mountains into metaphorical ones…I’ve made it no secret that over the past year and a half, I stopped writing on this blog so that I could focus on writing my next book, a travel odyssey titled: Borders, Bandits and Baby Wipes: The 9,000 Crooked Miles Between Two Points. I can see the summit now. Within 4-6 weeks I will have the final manuscript complete, one-page synopsis done and query letters ready to go to book agents.
I look forward to sharing it with all of you soon!
Know any book agents I should meet? Email me.